Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote "The greatness
of a society is shown by the way it treats its animals" and Leo Tolstoy
once said "If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of
abstinence is from injury to animals." Some of the worlds' most esteemed
people have demonstrated their concern for the animals with whom we
share our environment. Among them are noted scientists, authors,
politicians, teachers, clergy, and modern day celebrities. The animal
rights movement is growing and gaining strength. But we need the power
of our political leaders to make things happen for the animals, and so I
made an appointment to talk to my United States Congressman,
Representative Mark Foley.
Recently, I had a chance to ask my congressman, Mark
Foley, about his ideas on animal rights.
Q. Are issues involving the humane treatment of animals
important to you personally?
Foley: Yes, I believe that how we treat animals reflects
on how we treat people. I was appalled to learn that Mr. Weston, the man
who shot those two capital police officers, had admitted to shooting
neighbors cats in the weeks before. Perhaps if he had been made to pay
for the crime of shooting cats, he wouldn't be out shooting policemen.
Q. Do you consider the animal-rights movement to be a
Foley: To some degree. I think there is still a very
scattered approach and that work needs to be done on that, but it is
getting there. I dont like the fringe elements and think there needs to
be a more balanced approach.
Q. What do you feel about organized letter-writing
campaigns in terms of their success in getting you to look at a pending
bill more closely?
Foley: I like the animal-rights movement because I see
that it is made up of people with a lot of personal integrity. Other
activists talk about things like taxes and benefits, etc., things that
benefit them personally. The animal-rights people, however, are speaking
for those who cannot. They are speaking for animals who cant speak for
themselves, the activists themselves have no personal agenda, their
efforts are on someone else's behalf. I think it is a very sincere
'Q. Would you ever considering sponsoring legislation for an
Foley: I did. I was on the committee to ban the hunting
of the Florida Black Bear. Now they want to lift the ban. I cant see
doing that if it is not in the interest of public safety. If it is
simply for sport hunting, thats ridiculous. We degrade our environment
when we break the chain of life.
Q. What is the most effective way that animal-rights
activists can get their point across to you?
Foley: Sincere letter writing. People who write
passionately and with sincerity.
Q. When you receive an e-mail, fax, phone message or
letter asking you to vote a certain way on a specific bill that may be
pending, do you read all the arguments contained therein or simply tally
up the "for's" and/or "against's"?
Foley: I have certain staff members who are assigned to
research different causes and get back to me. We have legislative
briefings every week where we all sit down and discuss the weeks mail. I
read the e-mails and the letters that I get and I don't like the ones
that are scripted, or simply copied for the masses to sign. I wonder if
the signer actually read it or is just passing it on. I know that
sometimes people will simply copy and paste letters over and over again.
I can tell, of course, the letters all look the same, say the same
thing, have the same format. Its obvious. I dont like that. I need to
know that the writer put some thought into it.
Q. In 1995, 300 activists staged a demonstration on the
steps of the Capital to protest US subsidies to fur farmers. Congress
voted to stop subsidizing fur farmers. Do you think that our being there
at that demonstration had anything to do with the way Congress voted?
Foley: Yes, I remember that demonstration and it clearly
helped. I voted against the subsidizing of fur-farmers. I appreciate the
efforts to raise consciousness about these matters. I don't like it when
activists throw blood or paint on people wearing fur coats, but I think
the demonstrations can be effective. I don't believe in giving tax money
to people to raise mink and kill them for their fur.
Q. Florida has strict animal-cruelty laws and county
ordinances to protect domestic animals, the police are frequently not
aware of the laws or the enforcement of them. Do you have a remedy for
Foley: I never work on a new law without including ways
to get the police the information they need to enforce it. I think that
Congress needs to put the educational resources in every law they pass.
I have seen many people fight hard to get laws passed and once they are,
the attention is off of it and things go on as before, with nobody
enforcing them. We need the resources to educate the police about these
Q. Are you aware of the *FBI reports on the link between
animal abuse and criminal activity? Do you support stricter penalties
for those convicted of animal cruelty?
Foley: No, I am not aware of any formal study. But I was
instrumental in stopping the hog/dog rodeo because I think that no
violent act goes without applause. We bring children to the hog/dog
rodeo, and let them watch animals rip each others ears off and kill each
other, and we obscure the line between right and wrong. I think that
peoples pets are family members, and the loss of one is very acute. When
someone takes advantage of an animal and kicks the dog, they will take
advantage of a child and hurt them too.
Q. Sometimes activists are asked to write to
representatives from other districts or even other states regarding
pending legislation. One such example is the pending legislation in
Montana to stop the US sanctioned killing of wolves. Do you feel that
letters from activists outside a representatives constituency carries
Foley: I tend to be more interested in what people in
the 16th district have to say, then the state, and then the rest of the
country. Joining together is important. Someone else's fight may not be
my fight today, but it could be my fight tomorrow. We dont have any body
who checks up to see if a writer is from my district if it doesn't say so
in the letter, and we don't know who is a registered voter or not, but as
far as being a voter is concerned, I feel that if you aren't registered
to vote, you don't have a share in the debate.
Q. Are you persuaded by "Letters to the Editor," news
articles and other media coverage when deciding how to vote on a pending
piece of legislation?
Foley: If the letter is reasonable and grounded in fact.
I also think that letters to the editor praising the representative for
doing something right is very important too. I am not at all persuaded
by the efforts of paid lobbyists. I find that people who write to me or
to the editor, people who speak out for animals and who engage in grass
roots efforts are much more impressive to me.
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[Editor's Note: We realize the Representative's comments
regarding form letters may contradict the work we do in our weekly Alert
for Action newsletter, in which all alerts are structured in letter
format. However, as the opening paragraphs of the Alert for Action
state, our letters are meant to be sample letters only.
It is commonly known that a personal letter is granted
more weight by the recipient than a form letter. It demonstrates that
the sender is serious enough about the subject to take the time to
express their individual thoughts and ideas. However well intentioned, a
form letter shows nothing of the sort.
The intentions of our Alert for Action format are to
provide you with a sample letter containing all the facts. We expect
that most subscribers will take the facts from our letters and
incorporate them with their own thoughts and ideas. This is the most
effective means of being heard, and most importantly, being taken
seriously. At the same time, we understand that personal lifestyles and
circumstances do not always create the opportunity to construct
numerous, individual letters each week. Under such situations, we would
rather you send our sample letters than do absolutely nothing at all.]
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